Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Meditations on 1 John – II

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship [koinonia] with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1:5-7).

The idea that God is light; to us who live in a culture of deceit, spin, and subterfuge; can be difficult to grasp while certainly being even more difficult to live; it’s an idea much easier to pay lip-service to than to practice. Yet, we are called not simply to entertain the idea that God is light but we are called to walk in the light as He is in the light; now there is something to ponder.

Whatever it means to walk in the light as He is in the light, one thing it does not mean is that we live perfect lives, sinless perfection on our part is not the prerequisite for having fellowship with one another and with God – thank God for that! In the midst of the admonition to walk in the light as He is in the light we have the promise of cleansing from all sin, and later in this passage (2:1-2) we have the promise of forgiveness of sin restated. The reality of sin in this pilgrimage is also dealt with in 1:10: if we say we have not sinned we make Him a liar; and yet in 2:4 we read: Whoever says “I know Him” but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. This interplay of point and counterpoint invites our pondering and meditation and it unveils the childishness of not looking at our fallenness in the light of the Gospel with all of its complexities – the Gospel acknowledges our fallen human condition and miracle of miracles the grace of God in Christ enables us to have fellowship with God and with one another in the midst of our imperfections and our sin – for Christ is the propitiation for our sin.

A facet of walking in the light is acknowledging sin. We may ask, “If I walk in the light as He is in the light then I won’t sin, will I?” The speculative answer may be “Yes” but the Biblical answer as shown in this passage is “No”. If I ignore the Biblical answer then I am apt to impose unrealistic expectations on myself and others, and when sin does occur rather than look to the Cross for forgiveness I am more likely to look to the Law or religious tradition for condemnation – and I am also more likely to respond to my sin by greater self-effort. Well-meaning people can be authors of condemnation and perpetual guilt when they naively ignore the reality of our fallenness; they also minimize or ignore the mystery and tension of Biblical passages such as the one before us. Those who believe their salvation must be secured by perpetual effort live in perpetual insecurity.

This passage has hope, it has challenge, and it has warning. The hope is that in daily life with all of its imperfections, sins, and missed opportunities that I can still walk in the light as He is in the light because of Jesus Christ. The challenge is that God is light, in Him is no darkness at all, and that as I follow Christ I am to learn from Him (and from others) how to walk in the light. The warning is that if I think that I can walk in darkness and call myself His disciple, if I think that I can know Him and disobey His commandments – then I am a liar and I don’t know the truth, I don’t know the light.

 As John’s letter unfolds he writes about walking in the light, he will not leave us to wonder what living in the light looks like in the life of a Christian. In the meantime, how aware are we that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all; John says that this is the message they heard and the message they are proclaiming – but is this the message we live? I think that when we read passages like this and think about light and darkness that we are prone to think in terms of egregious sins, sins that other people do and not our own selective and rational sins. We like to excuse our “end justifies the means” sins, whether at work or in family or in other relationships or in church (yes, I wrote “in church”). It isn’t the ugly sins that bother me so much when I read this passage, it’s the accepted sins of church and society that bother me – those are the ones that seduce me and that I am more likely to adopt – thinking I can do so with impunity. I need John’s stark statement, “Look, if you think and live this way you are a liar and you’re deceiving yourself.”

Light and darkness, love and hate, truth and lying, Christ and antichrist; these are the juxtapositions of John; whether in his Gospel, his letters, or in the Apocalypse; in an amoral society we need the clear lines of John’s writing.    

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Psalm 3

O LORD, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me, many are saying of my soul, “There is no hope for him in God.” But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head.

After the prelude of Psalms  1 & 2 Psalm 3 finds us in the thick of life; Psalm 1 portrays two ways for individuals, Psalm 2 portrays two ways for peoples and nations; Psalm 3 is the first of many Psalms that portray the struggle of the righteous in the midst of the wicked.

It is helpful to me to remember Paul’s words in Ephesians Chapter 6, that our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers; and his words in 2Corinthians 10:3: For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh… When we forget these words we are apt to think that people are our enemies and place our focus, and sometimes our hatred, on people rather than on the forces behind the people. It is difficult (impossible?) to hopefully pray for others when we hate them for we cannot love them and hate them at the same time – not really.

I have found that the lingering enemies in my life are often within me; yes temptation comes from without, but the response to temptation comes from within – resisting temptation comes from Christ, entertaining temptation comes from me.

If persecuted Christians through the ages had viewed their tormentors as their enemies in the sense of being sources of evil they could not have prayed and lived and died for their salvation – the concentration camp guards were the focus of love and prayer for Betsy and Corrie ten Boom, not the objects of anger and hatred.

To be sure other people can be agents of opposition, but as Paul writes of Alexander the coppersmith, it is best to let the Lord reward those folks, in the meantime we can learn to turn the other cheek. (How about someone writing a book titled, “How to Turn the Other Cheek”? Would it be a best seller?)

Throughout the Psalms the writers affirm who God is and what God does; but You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I have found that it is better to focus on God than on myself, than on my meager resources, than on the opposition of others, than on my circumstances. After all, we were placed here to worship God so if we make worship our priority then we begin at the beginning each new day and in each new set of circumstances. Ah but it is so easy for me to forget these things in the midst of countless phone calls and text messages and emails – it is so easy for me to get caught up in life’s cacophony and adopt the insanity of escalating action and reaction.

And if I adopt the world’s values and opinions then I may very well think…if even only for a moment…there is no deliverance for him in God. Who do I choose to listen to? What do I choose to listen to? What is the music of my soul – the music of heaven or the music of earth? What is my native language – that of the Kingdom of Heaven or the Babel of the earth?

At the end of the day it is good to remind myself: Salvation belongs to the LORD.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Meditations on 1 John – I

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life – and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also… 1John 1:1-3a

Consider: what we have heard…what we have seen…what we have looked at…touched with our hands…we have seen…we have seen and heard; the author of this letter is an eyewitness to Jesus Christ. This passage calls to mind John 1:14: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory…

The Gospel is rooted in history, and while there are many facets and events in Gospel history the preeminent event is the incarnation of the Word of God; the birth of Jesus Christ, the life of Jesus Christ, the death of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the consummation of the ages in Jesus Christ.

John does not “pull rank” by saying, “I saw him with my eyes and you didn’t”. No Apostle does that, whether one of the Twelve or Paul; to John and his companions seeing Jesus was a blessing with responsibility and hopeful desire, the responsibility was to proclaim what they saw and heard to others, the hopeful desire was that others might know what it is to have koinonia (fellowship) with the Father, the Son, and their family.

John writes in verse 3: so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

We may think John has his motives mixed up, shouldn’t he proclaim the Gospel so that the hearers might first have fellowship with the Father rather than that you too may have fellowship with us? Consider what he writes in verse 7: but if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another; shouldn’t John have written if we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with the Father and the Son?

In other words, shouldn’t John make fellowship with God the priority and treat fellowship with others as an outgrowth of fellowship with God?

But yet if the prayer of Jesus in John Chapter 17 has become a reality in John’s life, if John is experiencing the unity of the Trinity, the love of the Trinity; if loving one another as I have loved you is an unfolding reality in John’s life, then John writes as we might expect him to write, he unselfconsciously writes as one whose life is in Christ and who desires that others may experientially know what he knows, he writes with the desire that others might have koinonia with him because he has koinonia with the Trinity.

John writes that our joy may be made complete. Jesus knew joy in bringing others to the Father; John found joy in bringing others to Jesus; where do we find joy? But it is more than finding joy or experiencing joy, it is our joy being brought to completion or perfection – that our joy may be made complete, or that our joy may be perfected and matured.

John isn’t selling a decision someone has to make, though a decision is part of the proclamation (I should note that a decision can take many forms); his message isn’t geared to have someone sign-up for Jesus and then move on to the next prospect so that he can report his weekly sales numbers. John is writing about on-going relationship, we are to live in the light so that we can have fellowship with one another, we are to love one another, we know we have passed from death to life because we love each other, we are to lay down our lives for one another just as Jesus laid down His life for us – John’s emphasis on our relationships with one another and with those relationships being the measure of our relationship with God is a major theme of the letter, a theme that begins at the beginning.

This message on koinonia with one another, this emphasis, comes from one who saw Jesus, touched Jesus, heard Jesus, and lived with Jesus – what does this message and emphasis look like in my life? In your life? In our lives? In the life of the professing church?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Psalm 2

“Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”

One man’s safety is another man’s fetter. Those who love God love His commandments and find joy in them; those who insist on their own way, the way of the wicked, see God’s commandments – given for our good, given to protect us, given to bring us into light and life – they see His commandments as chains and fetters.

“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed…”

The culmination of this uproar is seen in places such as Daniel and Revelation – a day will come when the nonsense will stop and all will bow before Jesus Christ – until then the uproar continues in many guises. The uproar seems especially poignant during election years, and to see professing Christians wade into the turmoil is akin to watching spectators at ocean’s edge during a hurricane – they think they can get near the storm with impunity but some are sure to get swept away. Some even venture to swim or surf in the roaring waters – how bright is that?

Those that say, “Come on in the water is fine”, don’t understand what they’ve gotten themselves into – Psalm 2 tells us; John’s Apocalypse warns us. Whether the waves are tossing and turning or are placid, whether the nations are reposed or are raising their voices and brandishing their weapons the motto is the same, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”

We do not understand that the world system is the world system and that it is opposed to God; and when we elevate politics to the same level as (or above) the Gospel in our conversation and actions we enter waters of a hurricane. When we are known more for our politics (I started to use the word ideology but few have an ideology they can systemically articulate) than we known are for being sons and daughters of the Prince of Peace we ought to ask if we have not been swept out to sea by the hurricane.

“But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

Those who follow Christ in North America are not first and foremost citizens of a democracy but rather subjects in a kingdom – but do we live firstly as subjects of the King? In Psalm 2 the King in submission to God is juxtaposed with the rebellious nations. The Son of Psalm 2 is juxtaposed with those who strive to overthrow the regal family.

The nature of political systems is sinful and rebellious, how can this nature be otherwise when the nature of man outside of God is sinful and rebellious? To think that a political system or a political party is God’s anointed is to ignore the Biblical teaching regarding the systems and kingdoms of this world; it is also to ignore the fact that there is one Anointed One – and that He is King and that we are His subjects.

Politics may give itself a face-lift in order to seduce and garner votes and opinion, but sooner or later the wrinkles will appear again – what we think we see is not what is there – what is there is Psalm 2. We may live in Babylon but we ought not to forget that Jerusalem is our home.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Psalm 1 - Part IV

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm One could be titled Life 101; we can’t live without water and we can’t live without God. There are two ways, one leads to eternal life and the other to eternal death. We can live in the way of the Word of God or we can live in the way of a world in rebellion against God – there is no neutral ground, there are no Switzerlands or Swedens.

As Psalms unfolds we learn that righteousness is found in God and not in ourselves; God is our refuge, our fortress, our salvation, our hope, our deliverer, our all in all – in and of ourselves we have no righteousness, the stark image of Isaiah comes to mind that our righteousness apart from God is like menstrual cloths, an explicitness that perhaps we need to be reminded of lest we become smug in religiosity.

Jesus is the Way which is why the LORD knows the way of the righteous, for those who are righteous have been made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ; the Father knows Jesus and therefore He knows those who are in Jesus. Paul writes (1Cor. 1:30) But by His [God’s] doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD. And in 2Cor. 5:21 Paul also writes, He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Six verses constitute Psalm One, just a few words, but words packed with images of God and man, of time and eternity, of a beginning and an end in this life – and of a judgment to come. Two ways, one way is perishing while the other Way is eternal – God’s Way or man’s way – which will it be today?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Psalm 1 - Part III

He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

A contrast between the person who meditates on the law of the LORD and the wicked; one is like chaff driven by the wind, the other is firmly planted. The word translated “prospers” carries with it the thought of bringing a thing to completion; the fruit fully ripens, endeavors are brought to conclusion and maturation. The wind separates the chaff from the grain, as Yahweh says in Haggai, He will shake all things and those things that cannot be shaken will remain. How often do the righteous protest against the wind and the shaking when the shaking and the wind are from God? We often focus on the temporal rather then the eternal; to see the temporal in the context of the temporal is nearsightedness; to see the temporal in the context of the eternal is vision with depth and breath and height. The earthquake and the wind have a purpose.

Water is associated with life, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and cleansing – images flowing together in Christ. Living water flows from the throne of God, it flows from us to others – in Christ we live in a well-watered land. We are watered and we are to water; when we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ He places a fountain of living water within us and we never thirst again. We can deceived into continuing to look for external water, carrying our buckets here and there, when Christ lives within us (see John Chapters 4 & 7).

If we mediate on the Word of God our thoughts are tethered to eternity, if our thought life feeds on the transitory we are at the mercy of the wind. We often discern physical food more readily than spiritual food; we flee produce tainted with listeria but not entertainment, conversation, religion, or public discourse laced with toxicity.

I wonder if Jeremiah thought of Psalm 1 when Yahweh spoke the following to him: Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. [Notice that Jeremiah 17:5 – 8 mirrors Psalm 1.]

The Scriptures begin with the Tree of Life, they culminate with the Tree of Life: Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the Tree of Life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations, Revelation 22:1-2. The Tree of Life in Genesis has grown and expanded in Revelation, while it may appear to the observer in Revelation that it is many trees, it is still one tree, and in fact the singular is used in Revelation – it is Tree of Life not trees of life. This reminds us of the Aspen tree, a tree that grows through its root system and therefore also a tree that is better able to withstand forest fire because its life remains beneath the ground.

Jesus tells us that except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die that it abides alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. Christ, the Tree of Life in Genesis extends His life in His people down through the ages and into eternity – the extension of this life is seen in Revelation Chapter 22 where the One Tree of Genesis has become the many trees of Revelation, and yet the many trees of Revelation remain the One Tree – for He is in us and we are in Him. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations – this is our calling, to bring peace and healing and salvation in Christ to others and to bring others to Christ. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Psalm 1 – Part II

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.”

Many people associate meditation with emptying the mind; to empty the mind is to open the mind and inner person indiscriminately to influences that can be dark and seductive – whether they appear so or not. Biblical meditation is mediation with a focus on God and His Word.

Psalm 1 is in effect saying, “Meditate on these Psalms. Meditate on the Word of God. Focus on God and His Word, think about Him, live in Him and in what He says.”

I am a proponent of meditating on a passage for an extended period of time, at least a week. Once a passage is assimilated it becomes a partner, a friend, a shelter on life’s journey. It becomes a place one returns to again and again, inviting friends and sharing special vistas and enjoying new discoveries. The passage must be in context, a verse is not enough, a phrase is not enough; verses and phrases take their meaning from their context.

Biblical meditation is foreign to most Christians, the idea of mulling a passage over for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes is uncomfortable for many, and the thought of doing this with the same passage for 7 days seems unpractical in a society that values production, that esteems utilitarian knowledge and data, where knowing the Final Jeopardy question to an answer is more important than understanding the context of the answer. The idea of incorporating a passage into a week’s thought-life, 24/7, may seem just plain weird – yet we are called to live in the Way of the Righteous, and to live in the Way of the Righteous we must know the Word of the Righteous One, else we shall find ourselves gravitating to the counsel of the wicked. Our calling is to mediate in His Word both day and night – meditation is to be a way of life.

The Word of God sanctifies us in Christ (John 17:17); we experience cleansing, consecration, and purity in His Word. Christ sanctifies and cleanses His Church by the washing of water with the Word (Ephesians 5:26). Paul writes in Colossians 3:16: Let the Word of Christ richly live in you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God. God’s Word is to be our way of life; our Way of Life. There is the Way of the Wicked and there is the Way of God’s Word.

In the midst of so many Christian books, do Christians know The Book? What do we talk about? What do we center our thoughts on? Is the Bible our main course or are trendy and transitory teachings our delight? The living Word is dynamic, it is immutable and unchanging while also dynamic. So Peter writes (1 Peter 1:23): …for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring Word of God. The Word is living and enduring, it is vital and vibrant.

When the Word of God lives in a man or woman, eternity lives in frail flesh forming and shaping an eternal person into the image of Jesus Christ. When the veil of flesh is put off, it is put off that the person eternal in Christ may be clothed with an ever-enduring home (2 Corinthians 5:1-6). The Word renews and refreshes us, keeping us mindful of who the Trinity is and of who we are (individually and collectively) in the Trinity.

Yahweh speaks to Joshua (Joshua 1:8): This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Joshua was on the verge of leading God’s people into their inheritance – whatever our inheritance may be in Christ, and it has many facets, we cannot know the fullness of that inheritance without living and breathing the Word of God, for all inheritance in Christ begins in His Word and culminates in the fulfillment of His Word.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD and in His law he meditates day and night.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Psalm 1

This might be called the Psalm of Two Ways, the Way of the Righteous and the Way of the Wicked. It sets the stage for the following 149 Psalms, so much so that some folks have thought that Psalm 1 was written as an introduction to all the psalms; whether it was or wasn’t written as an introduction it serves as one. All of life is encapsulated in 6 verses, two ways of living, two ways of thinking, two ways of acting, two ways of speaking – the Way of the Righteous and the Way of the Wicked.

I don’t think we appreciate wickedness or evil, and when we think we do we grade it in order to excuse our forays into it; to acknowledge evil and wickedness is to fear it and flee it in all of its forms – its pretty forms as well as its ugly forms; its beautiful forms as well as its beastly forms; its obvious forms as well as its stealth forms. When we think we can use evil for our own purposes we cross a line that leads to blindness and denial.

Verse 1 says, “…nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” We live in a land of scoffing, of disparaging others, of belittling others – especially those in authority; and professing Christians appear to think they can engage in scoffing with impunity. This is to say that we believe we can engage in wickedness with impunity. We see this in the workplace, we see this in the political arena, and we forget the root of scoffing and rebellion, we forget whose cup it is we drink from when we drink the wine of disparagement.

The Scriptures teach us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but we do not fear God when we think as the enemy thinks, act as he acts, speak as he speaks. Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD and in His law he meditates day and night.”

If we are meditating on the Word of God then we are not considering the way of wickedness, but if our minds are filled with the way of wickedness, if we are preoccupied with the things of dust, then our minds are not fixed on things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God (Colossians Chapter 3). Do we delight in the Law and Word of God, or do we find our pleasure in things which are passing away? Are our sails filled with the breath of God’s Holy Spirit or with the currents of this temporal age?

Neither the counsel of the wicked nor the way of sinners is specific as to action and attitude, but the seat of scoffers is specific to action and attitude; that is, scoffing is the one specific element of the Way of Wickedness that is highlighted in Psalm 1. This attitude and action is enlarged upon in Psalm 2 where we see the nations and their rulers declaring concerning God, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”

The images of walking, standing, and sitting are also found in Ephesians where Paul writes about us sitting with Christ in the heavens, walking worthy of our calling, and standing against the strategies of the devil. To live in Christ is to live under His authority, and to live under His authority is to relinquish any pretence to autonomy and right to oneself – for He is Lord…and He is not a Lord who takes pleasure in scoffing. We are called to be subject to Christ, not to be caught up in the disparaging spirit of this age – this should be especially true in an election year. How are others to know the Prince of Peace if we don’t live as peacemakers? Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God; we rationalize away these words of Jesus at our peril. Are we sitting in the seat of scoffers or are we sitting with Jesus Christ in the heavens?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Have We Beheld His Glory?

For the past 21 weeks Vickie and I have been part of a small group working through the Gospel of John one chapter a week; we read the same chapter each day, ponder it, meditate on it, and when we gather we share within the chapter; because we are unaccustomed to submitting to the Biblical text this is challenging – perhaps more on that in another post.

I’ve been asking myself the question, “Have we beheld His glory in our journey through the Gospel of John?” The question comes from John 1:14: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If Jesus is Christianity then beholding His glory, beholding God in Christ Jesus, is central to life and central to our experience of the Scriptures – but is beholding Christ normative for us? In John Chapter 12 Philip is approached by Hellenistic Jews who say, “We want to see Jesus.” Do I approach the Bible with the attitude that I want to see Jesus? Do I approach the text with a desire to behold His glory? As a teacher or friend or brother do I measure fellowship and ministry with the questions, “Have we beheld His glory? Have we seen Jesus?”

I don’t think that many of the religious or Christian or churchy things I have thought important in this life are going to carryover into eternity; what will carryover is beholding Jesus and His glory, individually and collectively.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to: fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… Is there anything more I could want today than to see Him, to know Him, and to share Him?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Recognizing Him – Images of Jesus

How often do I not recognize Jesus? When I was a child I knew Jesus from a flannel graph, from a picture in a Bible, from a painting on a wall; later as a teenager and a young man I knew Jesus in the form of do’s and don’ts; I knew Him encapsulated in prohibitions and imperatives – my conformity thereto validating my knowledge of Him. I also knew Him in correct doctrine, and not just correct doctrine but correct doctrine expressed in correct jargon. I’ve known Him other ways, in ways too numerous to enumerate, and besides I don’t know that it would edify either one of us to take you on a tour of the labyrinth of folly of religion as I have known it. I don’t know that it is the folly of others, only that it has been my folly from time-to-time.

I’ve been meditating on the three post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in which those who knew Him didn’t recognize Him; the two people on the Road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and the seven disciples on the Sea of Tiberius. The account of the seven disciples in John Chapter 21 contains the enigmatic statement, “Now none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’ They knew it was the Lord.” now what is going on there? How could folks who knew what He looked like before the Resurrection not know what He looked like after the Resurrection? And did He look the same at the Sea of Tiberius as He did in the Upper Room? If so, why didn’t Peter and James and John immediately recognize Jesus?

I don’t know the answers to my questions, but I do know that there have been times when Jesus hasn’t looked like He was supposed to, and there have been times when the way He has been portrayed has been a caricature and has not been the real Jesus – there have been times I thought the real Jesus took pleasure in harshness and meanness and vitriol, there have been times I thought He approved of my self-righteousness – there have been times I’ve made Balaam’s ass look like a beauty queen – and all of these times I didn’t recognize Him.

These post-resurrection Gospel accounts give me pause to think about my autopilot images of Jesus; do I know Him when I see Him? When I think I see Him do I really see Him? If He doesn’t appear as I think He should, if He isn’t on the flannel graph, do I know Him? If He isn’t a paper cutout or in a religiously tailored suit will I pass by Him? Worse, will I think Him to be pitied? Too many times I’ve been smug about Jesus; too many times I’ve thought I’ve had the answers to Him. It isn’t just what I believe that is important, it is how I believe what I believe.

And yet, having written the above, I do know Him; I know His mercy and grace and patience and longsuffering and kindness and gentleness – and His righteousness and holiness…and transcendence. The fact that I have missed Jesus so often is not the story; the real story is that He has never missed me, never lost track of me, never given up on me – or on you.

An acquaintance of mine is struggling with looking for a church, she is struggling because the churches she has known have been rigid and legalistic and authoritarian. I talk to her about a relationship with Jesus, about His mercy and grace and His desire for her to know Him – but she has had some pretty heavy negative experiences with church. I can relate to both ends of her experience because I’ve been on the giving and the receiving ends of religious nonsense.

Peter must have had a time getting to recognize Jesus. First he couldn’t conceive that Jesus was going to be crucified, then of course he denied Jesus, then he encounters the resurrected Jesus, but it wasn’t over yet. Later Peter has to come to terms that the image he has of Jesus confining Himself to Jews isn’t an image of Jesus at all, but that Peter is to call no person common or unclean. Peter has a relapse in Antioch but snaps out of it after a wake-up call from Paul, who had his own images of God that he had to unlearn. What a journey these men and women were on!

I really want to know Jesus, whether on the road or by a tomb or by the seashore cooking breakfast; and I want to share Him with others – His physical appearance may change,  circumstances may vary, but He Himself is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Maybe that is a clue for me, to look for the eternal and to stop playing with the transitory – ah to be delivered from childhood – oh to know Jesus.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Don’t Judge Christ by Christians…Really?

A church near our home has the following on its marquee:

Don’t Judge Christ by Christians

Now I’ll admit there is a tension here, for I’ve used the equivalent of that line myself and I’ll probably use it again…but:

Jesus says (John 17): I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me…

The world can judge the validity of the Gospel message, of the Father sending the Son, by the unity of Christians. As much as we try to explain away the fractured appearance and nature of the professing church, as much as we may try to emphasize the common ground (which is substantial) of the professing church, we are left with the fact that the general perception is that the church is anything but unified; the testimony of the church is not one of unity. For those of us who think of the church on a daily basis it is easy to forget that the concept of a transcendent church is foreign not only to most professing Christians, but that it is utterly foreign to the average person. Many people consider the various denominations and various nondenominational churches the same way they consider competing restaurants or retail establishments; you have your national chains and then your locally-owned establishments; the church is no more unified than McDonald’s and Burger King; or Wal-Mart and Target. People have justification for judging Christ by Christians.

Then we have the sign by which people can judge whether we are disciples of Jesus Christ, for Jesus says (John 13): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.   

Jesus gives the world another standard of measure by which to judge; the first standard of measure by which the world can judge the Gospel message is our unity, the second standard by which the world can judge whether we are Christians is our love one for another. Our relationship with others is central to both standards, as is Christ. We are to love as Jesus Christ loves, and we are to be in unity as the Father and Son are in unity – we are to live in their unity.

If the world does not see our unity and if the world does not see our love for one another then the Word of God indicts us, our lives are a prima facie case against us. We may think that programs and campaigns will make up for our lack of witness in unity, but Jesus didn’t talk about programs and campaigns as being the witness of the Gospel message. We may think that other things may substitute for our love for one another, but Jesus didn’t talk about other things taking the place of loving even as He loves. For many we are about as attractive as a restaurant chain that only serves liver and onions and about as relevant. Folks that have been “going to church” all their lives often have no sense of a transcendent Body of Christ, and when various churches and denominations do cooperate it is often on the same level as competing firms in the same industry cooperate via trade organizations to accomplish particular aims – they remain competitors.

The marquee about not judging Christ by Christians lets professing Christians off the hook, it lets churches off the hook, and it allows us to climb down from the witness stand. How about a marquee that says, “You have a right to judge the Gospel message and to judge us by our love and unity”?

Friday, October 5, 2012

I AM – in Gethsemane

They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene,” He said to them, “I AM.” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, “I AM,” they drew back and fell to the ground. John 18:5 – 6.

Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus reveals Himself as the Self-Existent One, the One Who appeared in the Burning Bush, Eternal God; as John writes in 1:18: No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. And as Jesus says to Philip in John Chapter 14, He who has seen Me has seen the Father.

In Gethsemane, when Jesus says “I AM” the crowd sent to arrest Him draws back and falls to the ground. They are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, in their minds they are looking for a man, but they have encountered more than a man, they have also encountered God – the Word was made flesh… and we beheld His glory (John 1:14). In a few days Mary Magdalene will also seek Him, this time not in a garden but in a tomb, and when He is not in the tomb she will continue to look, her heart breaking; but even Mary will be looking for a man, for just a man, though not just any man…she will be looking for Jesus, unlike any other man, unlike all men; a man yet not just a man. She sees a man, he must be the gardener, he must be the gardener because Jesus is dead and Mary is looking for a man, for just a man – but she will find God, for God finds her with the word “Mary”.

But in the Garden of Gethsemane the crowd will not allow a brief encounter with Deity to deter it from its murderous intention; and Judas will deliver his part of the bargain. God was betrayed in the Garden of Eden and He is betrayed again in the Garden of Gethsemane; but there is yet a third garden and in that garden God will reverse the betrayal on Easter morning – God’s faithfulness is more sure than our betrayal.

Whatever it is that causes the crowd to draw back and fall to the ground can be shaken off and the deed accomplished. How many times has this scenario been played out in history? In our own lives? God reveals Himself and we shake it off and see our agendas through. We may think that if we had been in the arresting posse that we would have thought twice about being knocked backwards and falling to the ground; we may think that we would have pondered His words, “I AM”. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we would not have gotten back to our feet and consummated the arrest – thank God for the Cross - thank God for Easter.